A victim conned out of her South Northamptonshire home and her life savings by a trickster she thought loved her has bravely spoken out in a bid to warn others.
'Jessica' met a man on an online dating site at the beginning of 2019.
But the scammer spent 18 months winning her trust before disappearing with more than £100,000, leaving his victim horribly in debt.
Calling himself James, an architect living in Sunderland, he spun an elaborate web of lies involving engineering contracts and bank accounts — and even a fake police email address.
Jessica — whose name has been changed to protect her identity — revealed: "I'd been on dating sites a couple of times and had met a partner successfully.
"James appeared genuine. We got to know each other and he always seemed very interested in what I was doing.
"In January he went abroad to do some work everything went fine. He was taking some machinery out there to do with one of the contracts he was working on, but it was confiscated and he needed to pay a large amount of money to get it back.
"He didn't ask me for money but he wanted to go into his bank account to transfer his money. I wasn't happy doing it but he said he couldn't trust anybody else.
"That trust formed a big part of the relationship. He clearly had money, so when he started to ask me to borrow some because the bank had put a hold on his account I knew he could pay me back.
"I gave him money or five or six different occasions, large amounts over a period of a year.
"Now, I feel so angry with myself for being so gullible. I never took his word for anything, I always wanted to be backed up. And he did back it up every time.
"I tried to walk away but was in so deep just thought I'd got to carry on to get my money back.
"It's hard to say no when you think you're in a relationship when you think you've got a future. But he was obviously telling me exactly what I wanted to hear."
Even when Jessica got suspicious, James kept up the scam up by sending spoof emails that appeared to be from a Northamptonshire Police detective.
Police now believe James was a professional scammer and part of an organised crime group in Nigeria.
Detective Sergeant Steve Puddifoot, said: “This was a very professional scam created and carried out by professional criminals.
“The victim in this case is exceptionally brave in being willing to talk about her experiences. The emotional and mental impact has been devastating to her and her family.
“Online dating services are a great way to meet people but those that use them need to be fully aware of the dangers involved.
“She, and we, hope that raising awareness and her speaking out about her experiences could prevent others from falling foul of this despicable crime.
Romance fraud is a serious crime. If you suspect it, you must report it. If you, or someone you know is suspected to be a victim of romance fraud, please report it to us.
Five tips to avoid falling victim to an online dating fraudster:
Don’t rush into an online relationship – get to know the person, not the profile. Ask plenty of questions.
Analyse their profile – confirm the person's identity. Check the person is genuine by putting their name, profile pictures or any repeatedly-used phrases and the term ‘dating scam’ into your search engine.
Talk to your friends and family - be wary of anyone who tells you not to tell others about them.
Evade scams - never send money or share your bank details with someone you’ve only met online, no matter what reason they give or how long you've been speaking to them.
Stay on the dating site messenger service - don't use email, phone, social media or other messaging apps until you’re confident the person is who they say they are.